Meat is an excellent source of protein and other nutrients. If you're trying to compare beef and pork to see which meat is best, keep in mind that both of these typically have more saturated fat than other animal products. If you're going to eat red meat, try to choose leaner cuts when possible.
Pork and beef can both be healthy meats, but it's best to consume low-fat cuts. Beef cuts are lower in total fat, but low-fat pork cuts typically have more nutrients.
Red Meat and Other Proteins
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, most people should consume about 5 1/2 ounces (156 grams) of protein-rich foods each day. This applies not only to animal proteins like pork, chicken and beef, but also includes a range of other foods like fish, shellfish, eggs, soy, legumes, nuts and seeds.
Pork and beef are both classified as red meat. Red meat is typically considered unhealthier than other animal products, like chicken and fish. This is because meats like pork and beef tend to have more saturated fat, and saturated fat has been found to increase your cholesterol and is considered bad for the health of your heart.
The American Heart Association says that it's OK to eat red meat, though — you just need to consume it in moderation. When possible, choose lean meats, especially products labeled "choice" or "select." If you've purchased meat with fat, you can always trim the fat off or pour off any excess that collects during the cooking process.
You should also try to avoid products that may have variable amounts of fat, like ground beef or ground pork. These products are only considered to be lean when they have a fat content of 15 percent or less, according to the American Heart Association.
Fat in Pork vs. Beef
There are many common cuts of pork and beef. Leaner cuts of either often contain words like loin or sirloin in their names, while pork belly and rib-eye are two of the fattiest cuts. However, always check the nutrition facts of the product beforehand. Certain loin cuts, like pork chops, can be rich in fat.
According to the USDA, every 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of a fatty cut of beef, like rib eye steak, has around 244 calories, 18.9 grams of protein and 18.7 grams of fat (8.3 grams are saturated). In comparison, the same-sized serving of sirloin steak has 129 calories, 21.3 grams of protein and 4.2 grams of fat (1.5 grams are saturated).
In comparison, pork chops can be fatty or lean. The USDA states that 100 grams of fatty pork chops have 255 calories, 26.5 grams of protein, 15.7 grams of fat (4.5 grams are saturated). In comparison, every 100 grams of lean pork chops contain 195 calories, 31 grams of protein and 6.9 grams of fat (2.3 grams are saturated).
If you're comparing lean pork versus beef products to see which has the least unhealthy fats, beef might be the healthier choice — but fattier cuts of pork have much less saturated fat compared to fatty cuts of beef. In some cases, pork might be the healthier choice even though it has a higher fat content. This is because pork often has larger amounts of healthy fats, like polyunsaturated fatty acids, compared to beef.
Again, this isn't always the case, so it's important to check the nutrition facts on your meat products. The Mayo Clinic reports that a cow's diet can influence the types of fat found in the beef. If you typically consume grass-fed beef, these animals can have larger amounts of healthy, unsaturated fats like omega fatty acids and less total fat.
Pork vs. Beef Nutrition Facts
When comparing only healthier cuts of lean pork versus beef, you'll find that both products are rich in nutrients and lack carbohydrates. The USDA reports that every 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of beef sirloin has:
- 6 percent of the daily value (DV) for vitamin B1 (thiamin)
- 9 percent of the DV for vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
- 39 percent of the DV for vitamin B3 (niacin)
- 13 percent of the DV for vitamin B5
- 35 percent of the DV for vitamin B6
- 38 percent of the DV for vitamin B12
- 16 percent of the DV for choline
- 9 percent of the DV for iron
- 7 percent of the DV for potassium
- 5 percent of the DV for magnesium
- 16 percent of the DV for phosphorus
- 35 percent of the DV for zinc
- 8 percent of the DV for copper
- 54 percent of the DV for selenium
In comparison, 100 grams of lean pork chops have:
- 56 percent of the daily value (DV) for vitamin B1 (thiamin)
- 21 percent of the DV for vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
- 50 percent of the DV for vitamin B3 (niacin)
- 20 percent of the DV for vitamin B5
- 32 percent of the DV for vitamin B6
- 27 percent of the DV for vitamin B12
- 16 percent of the DV for choline
- 4 percent of the DV for iron
- 9 percent of the DV for potassium
- 6 percent of the DV for magnesium
- 24 percent of the DV for phosphorus
- 19 percent of the DV for zinc
- 9 percent of the DV for copper
- 86 percent of the DV for selenium
Sirloin might have less fat, but overall, pork chops have more nutrients. For example, there's 30 percent more selenium in pork chops compared to sirloin steak. However, this isn't the case for every essential vitamin and mineral. Steak is rich in iron, while pork chops have only small amounts (4 percent of the DV per 100 grams).
Cooking Healthier Meat Products
Regardless of whether your meal includes pork, chicken or beef, the way you cook your meat can have a major impact on its overall nutrition and benefits to your health. It's best to avoid frying foods, such as consuming fried chicken or fried ground pork, as this can add to the unhealthy fat content. The American Heart Association recommends cooking techniques like baking, broiling, roasting, microwaving or stir-frying, instead.
Frying foods is also unhealthy for another reason. It contributes to the formation of dietary advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which are associated with cancer and heart disease. According to a July 2013 study in the Journal of the American Dietary Association, stewing and roasting your meat at low temperatures are the healthiest ways to cook foods, as these result in the least AGEs.
This study also found that cooked pork products tend to have fewer AGEs than cooked beef products. However, when comparing pork, chicken and beef, chicken products tend to have the least AGEs of all meat products.
- Journal of the American Dietary Association: "Advanced Glycation End Products in Foods and a Practical Guide to Their Reduction in the Diet"
- Health.gov: "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020: Chapter 1. Key Elements of Healthy Eating Patterns"
- American Heart Association: "Meat, Poultry, and Fish: Picking Healthy Proteins"
- Mayo Clinic: "Grass-Fed Beef: What Are the Heart-Health Benefits?"
- MyFoodData: "Nutrition Comparison of Beef Rib Eye Steak/Roast Boneless Lip-on Separable Lean and Fat Trimmed to 1/8 Inch Fat All Grades Raw, Beef Bottom Sirloin Tri-Tip Roast Separable Lean Only Trimmed To 0 Inch Fat Select Raw, Pork Chops (Lean), Pork Chops (With Fat), Raw Chicken Breast, and Pork Fresh Belly Raw"